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U.S. Defense Chief Says He Sees Encouraging Signs In Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis speaks aboard his official aircraft on June 24.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says he sees encouraging signs for substantive talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban after 17 years of war.

Mattis, speaking on June 24, pointed to the Taliban's acceptance of a three-day cease-fire offered recently by President Ashraf Ghani.

Government forces and the Taliban suspended fighting for three days late last week to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The government then extended the cease-fire, but the Taliban refused to reciprocate and instead began ramping up attacks on June 17.

Mattis said that even though the Taliban turned down a chance to extend the truce, he was encouraged by the way many Taliban fighters joined with government security forces and civilians to break their fast on the Eid al-Fitr religious holiday.

"Clearly Ghani has hit a responsive chord," Mattis told reporters at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, as he prepared to leave for an official trip to Asia.

"Not just on the Afghan national government side, but also it cut deep into the Taliban. We'll see how this goes forward."

Mattis was scheduled to his first visit to China on June 26-28 as part of a four-day trip that will also include South Korea and Japan.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP